Court favors teachers in tax plan dispute

A constitutional challenge filed by a business coalition against a proposed Nevada business profits tax to fund education was rejected Tuesday by a local judge.

Carson District Judge Mike Griffin said there were problems with the tax proposal pushed by the Nevada State Education Association - but the plan ''is not clearly unconstitutional.''

Griffin also said he based his 24-page decision in part on ''strong presumptions in favor of the initiative process.''

''In this court's opinion, the remedy for (tax plan opponents) is political, not legal, under Nevada law,'' Griffin concluded.

The NSEA, the main union for Nevada teachers, needed only 44,009 valid signatures on its initiative petition seeking the tax plan - and submitted far more than that. The secretary of state's office found that 63,795 signatures were valid.

Unless Griffin's ruling is overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court, the proposal will go to the 2001 Legislature. If lawmakers refuse to enact the proposed legislation, voters would have to approve it in 2002 for it to become law.

A coalition representing hundreds of Nevada businesses had urged Griffin to toss out the proposal. But the NSEA said the opponents failed to show any clear constitutional flaw and also missed a deadline for claiming there were errors in the signature-gathering process used by the tax proponents.

The opponents argued the proposed 4 percent business net profits tax. is a thinly disguised personal income tax, which is banned under Nevada's constitution.

Foes also claimed the plan would let some corporations escape the tax while others would pay the full rate.

The proposed tax would raise about $250 million for public education. The plan would also prevent lawmakers from taking the tax revenue ''out the back door'' and using education dollars elsewhere in the state budget.

Ken Lange of the NSEA has said the petition was drafted by lawyers who carefully reviewed the Nevada Constitution. He agreed the constitution prohibits a personal income tax, but added that the teachers' plan doesn't fit that description.

As for the charges in the lawsuit that the petition drive had serious procedural flaws, Lange said the NSEA consulted with the secretary of state's office several times to make sure it met the legal requirements.


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